The Bubble reported earlier this week that Martin Lousteau, Argentine ambassador to the USA, had sent a letter to Macri setting out his resignation. In his letter, he expressed his deep appreciation for the opportunity, but that he would come back to work where he thought he was most productive, in more local politics, and highlighted the willingness to dialogue with the government.
We now know that he held a meeting with around twelve legislators and civil servants just after notifying the President on his resignation, telling them: “I am coming back [to Argentina] ready for war. I want you all to know. Now more than ever, we have to be united.” Slight contradiction there, but let’s run with this.
All indicators seem to point to the idea that he gave up his post in Washington in order to pursue his long-term goal of becoming Buenos Aires City mayor. He previously ran in 2015, and won a sizable amount of votes, but narrowly lost the election to Horacio Rodríguez Larreta of the Pro-party. (In this year’s mid term elections, he appears to want to run for national deputy as a part of the Cambiemos coalition. This means he could run as the Cambiemos candidate. For the sake of context, it’s good to note that unlike the country on a whole, the Cambiemos does not have a function presence the city of Buenos Aires. The Pro, which is a major part of the Cambiemos coalition, is the ruling party there. This cozying up to Cambiemos is not expected to be permanent though — Lousteau is expected to run independently in the 2019 national elections.
Journalist Francisco Olivera, speaking to La Nación live, said that according to the Macri administration, Lousteau has said that he wasn’t going to run for mayor in 2019, and that they had believed him.
Lousteau had somewhat anticipated the negative reaction from the Macri administration, saying “They’ll say that I made a self-interested decision. But I always said I wanted to be head of government in 2019.” Nonetheless, two attendees at the meeting spotted Lousteau appearing visibly “affected” by Macri and cabinet chief Marcos Peña’s subsequent annoyance, as he had believed the meeting to be “good-tempered and relaxed.”
Lousteau also didn’t set a date for his resignation, so as not to complicate matters before Macri’s meeting with Trump towards the end of this month. Yet, sources from the Casa Rosada confirmed to Perfil that Macri ordered chancellor Susana Malcorra to get to work quickly on all of the necessary administrative work, to get Loustreau out of the role “as soon as possible.”
The ex-ambassador also said at the meeting that he would offer to run in the primary congressional elections, as a deputy for Cambiemos, in August. Unsurprisingly, the Macri administration rejected this offer. Macri and Elisa Carrió may choose the candidates who will run in the primaries, and the public will decide who wins them, and consequently who will be the candidates for deputies and senators in the general midterms.
If Lousteau were to run for deputy as part of the Cambiemos coalition rather than as a radical party candidate, it may well mean more overall votes for Cambiemos, but would mean willingly empowering someone in the coalition, since he is not a member of the pro, could undermine its absolute control within the political camp.
Interestingly, last month, Vice-mayor of the city of Buenos Aires Diego Santilli, said that Cambiemos wanted Lousteau and his party ECO to be integrated into Cambiemos, but insisted that he would not participate in the upcoming elections. La Nación also reported that Santilli said there was “no doubt” that Lousteau could run in 2019 in the Cambiemos primaries.
Keeping Lousteau in the USA was viewed by many to be an advantageous tactic for Macri. Lousteau is a very popular figure but one who is not part of the Pro. As part of Cambiemos, he could bring in quite a few votes, yet also having a popular figure who’s not part of the Pro party itself, might be dangerous for the Pro and their control of the coalition in the future. The ambassador position therefore kept Lousteau occupied, in an important role and working for the government. It also tried to ensure he didn’t run against the government in the future, for instance the Radical Civic Union (UCR), the party with which he has most ties.
Now, however, the government will be forced to consider how to deal with his return. Francisco Olivera told La Nacion live that some government representatives are even putting pressure on Elisa Carrió to compete in the city against Lousteau. Carrió is the government’s most popular figure for these elections. It is not yet certain whether Carrió would run in the city or provincial primaries. Olivera calls Lousteau’s resignation a strategic move among the radicals, to put pressure on Larreta. There are some radical factions who want Lousteau to announce himself as a candidate for deputy in the coming elections.